The Science of Biological Forces and Their Therapeutic Application
by Sean Christiaan Marshall, D.Ac.

"If you want to develop acupuncture, if you want to make it grow and spread, you have to be very strict in the way that you learn things, rigorous or strict in the way that we learn the words. If we employ words which are not accurate, we are not going to learn anything. Because in Chinese medicine, every single word has a deep meaning, and if we don't use them correctly, we may end up making errors. And if there are errors in comprehension we cannot help our patients, we cannot get results. And a medical science where there are no results is a science that has no future. That is why we are very strict about the terminology. "

-- Dr. Tran Viet Dzung

Obviously, there are many very fine books available these days by authors who have dedicated many arduous hours to true academic inquiry. But, perhaps not so obviously, there is replication of information, book after book regurgitating the same information: 12 Channels; 8 Curious Vessels; Pulses, Points and Pathologies -- yet each often has differing nomenclature systems and terms, making the field all the more confusing, not only to beginners but also to professionals inside and outside the field.

More dangerous, though, is that too often books are published by inexperienced authors either with a shallow understanding or perhaps merely a need for notoriety. Worse still, are books aping scholarship yet based on the authors' misinterpretations and ideas literally made up off the tops of their collective head. Finally, and by far the worst offenders, are those who alter the classical precepts in order to produce unique®, exclusive®, trade-markable® "new original information".


Before we examine some common misunderstandings of classical concepts let us address the notion of "different schools of thought", the primary alibi used to excuse and defend conflicting theories, philosophies and methodologies.
As in any field, many professionals gravitate to and employ techniques with which they personally resonate. Physicists, for instance, sometimes engage exclusively in work with particle accelerators. Some others may be deeply interested in fluid dynamics or astrophysics or purely theoretical physics. This does not change the laws of physics. This does not produce different universes with different physical laws based on differing "schools of thought".

I paraphrase Einstein: For laws of physics to be valid, they must be true for everyone in every part of the universe. The observations of individuals may vary depending on their point of view however, -- even though the observations are as valid as is their individual point of view -- this still does not change the laws of physics.

Chinese medicine was and is not immune to this phenomenon. Ancient masters of Chinese medicine also engaged in this kind of "specialization". Tung's Acupuncture is a prime example. Tung, a fine acupuncturist in his own right, traveled throughout China recording the favorite techniques and "tricks" of the best doctors in the land. This resulted in a work entitled "Tung's Acupuncture", a compendium of classical and non-classical points and techniques for which he developed a separate nomenclature and numbering system in order to tie these "tricks" together in a coherent, understandable and usable system.

The point is there is no such thing as Tung's Acupuncture. It should more properly be called "Chen's and Ching's and Ping's and Cheng's and Zhen's and Zhao's, (etc.) Acupuncture: A Book Of Techniques Based On A Complete Coherent System That Is Called Chinese Medicine, Compiled By Ching-chang Tung". Other examples are: Korean Hand Acupuncture, Craniopuncture, Auriculopuncture, the Japanese Systems, American Acupuncture, Constitutional Acupuncture, Energetic Layer Types, Trigger Point Therapy, "Various" Kinesiology, Microsystems -- the list goes on and on as if there were a different "biology" for each system. There are not different biologies that respond to different systems.

The message that must be taken here is -- Chinese medicine is a complete coherent, integral, interdependent and independent system of health care that must be understood within its own context, in whole, not in part, if it is to be mastered. It was born out of Daoist philosophy, which is at the heart of Chinese medicine and contains the original, guiding ideas that nurtured it into existence. Anything else is merely a fragment, no matter how elegant or seductive it may seem, it is only a specialty that, when studied in a vacuum, is merely a facet that will not reveal the jewel that produced it.

As stated, since there are already many introductory books, our purpose in this work is not to present the entire field of Chinese medicine. In fact, we shall be at pains to avoid any redundancy. Instead, we will attempt to fill the gaps, supply the missing pieces, restore the guiding ideas and, where ever possible, correct misinformation when certainty about the error is assured.


To be faithful in the small is to be faithful in the large. What does this mean? It means if we are going to represent Chinese medicine faithfully and accurately, in order to gain and keep the respect the field rightfully deserves, we must look after the smallest details. We must be certain of what we say. We must be certain that there is consistency, continuity and integrity in the laws, rules, philosophy and even in the symbols we use to portray these ideas and concepts. (Lest you think I'm "nitpicking" consider what one might think of the other scientific disciplines if they were inconsistent with their symbols, say, physics equations or electronic schematics. c.f. Tran's quote at the introduction).

Lets look at some examples:

Nothing is more familiar, even to the non-student of Asian thought, than the Taijitu. Although he may not be able to name it he can certainly recognize it as familiar. But which of the following best represents the philosophical idea it is supposed to portray? Indeed, what is the philosophical idea it is supposed to portray?


Figure 1 seems to represent a clockwise flowing motion with the yang portion ascending and the yin portion descending; Figure 2 is similar but implies an anti clockwise motion; in Figure 3 it appears yang is descending, yin is ascending and the flow is anti clockwise.

The answers: firstly, none of them. Secondly, regarding what it does represent, let's digress slightly to the original meanings of yin and yang.

Antedating any philosophical connotation to yin and yang were their original reference only to the shaded side and sunlit side of a hill or mountain. They later took on more metaphysical and emblematic usages in the hands of the Daoists.

Since Daoist science is a product of the direct observation of the universe it didn't take long for these handy terms to provide symbols for all polar opposites. Neither was there any resulting contradiction to other natural phenomena or philosophical discussion of such, e.g. at its maximum, yin can transform into yang and yang into yin; simply watch the sun traverse from the sunny side to the shaded side, and at noon, they reverse.

The notion that any qualitative symbol of Daoist science was "thought up" and these priests went scurrying about trying to find phenomena to fit them is decidedly a Western problem. For those thoroughly inculcated with the Greek/Western model this epistemological mode continues to be the stumbling block preventing any logical or useful grasp of Chinese medical science as a whole.

The process of Western science looks something like this:

Hypothesis/theory (guess) -> experiment (experience) -> Laws. (Quantitative)

Whereas the process of Eastern science follows thusly:

Natural phenomena (laws) -> experience (experiment) -> Thesis. (Qualitative)

Both yield highly accurate information about totally different aspects of reality. The point is -- Eastern science never created terms in hopes of finding natural events to fit them to. Natural events were observed and fitted themselves quite "naturally" into qualitative standards of logically stringent categories (Yinyang and Wuxing).

Five phase symbology (may we please drop the terms "theory" and "element") is a perfect example of this irritating tendency to "alter to make fit" or "rephrase to make sense". This is also why many writers and practitioners find the five phases so stubbornly resistant to Western "scientification" and so, frustrated, abandon it (except in the very few cases where it behaves physiologic quantification). In doing so they have thrown out the baby and kept the bath water. Five-phase science is not "too rigid" to be useful, the rigidity is in the minds of the cerebral stenotics that won't expand to include it, to understand it within its own context. To quote Vartan Gregorian quoting Sheraton "in looking for predigested ready-made answers, they have failed to undergo the fatigue of judging for themselves".

One can read in the introductions of the various textbooks, the authors' stating the problem...

"Westerners, brought up in modern [read Western] scientific tradition, often have difficulty in grasping the concepts of Chinese medicine......Much of English literature, including that produced in China, omits the apparently irrational, while reformulating in inexact Western medical terminology much of what is acceptable..."

Then, in the body of the very same textbook, go on to state:

"Conspicuous shortcomings are also to be found in five-phase theory...certain aspects...provide valuable guides...other aspects are unclear and are therefore incompatible with modern [read Western] medicine...the accurate aspects must be preserved, and the inaccurate ones eliminated."

[From "Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine" pages 17-18: Paradigm Publications, 1985]

They have fallen pray to their own caveat. Polarized in the Western mode, they omit the "apparently irrational" and state "inexactly" the remaining bits after a thorough cleaning with Occam's razor.

We won't have that problem. We will present Chinese medicine whole and in the Daoist context -- the only way in which it can be understood.

But nor can we rely on the books from China, as stated by the above authors, and as evidenced by the quote below in the definition of "Jing":

"Owing to this jing qi (whether it be generated right in the Kidneys themselves, or otherwise extended to these), Kidneys are somehow involved in, or even responsible for, the process of Reproduction.

Finally, Kidneys are believed to even possess mental aptitude, affecting such feats as memory, temperament, behavior, fright, fear and other emotions.

REMARKS -- Despite their acknowledged importance, even versatility, it can be readily discerned that this notion of mental aptitude is even more farfetched than the notion of effecting or influencing Reproduction."

[From "Chinese Medical Terminology" Frank Liu and Liu Yan Mao, The Commercial Press, Ltd. 1980]

Even the marginally informed acupuncturist has an understanding of the tremendous responsibility Kidney energetics have with reproduction and mental states.

Just as absurd as tossing out all or part of the five phases is the assumption one can practice only "five-element acupuncture" or "jing-luo" or "zang/fu" acupuncture. These concepts simply don't make any sense. They come from the ubiquitous Western habit of reductionism i.e. cardiology, neurology etc. In the individual patient, one cannot treat an aspect in isolation of the whole. This even goes beyond the level of the individual. I am in no way making a metaphysical statement when I say the biota is contiguous with the cosmos... the flapping of a butterfly's wings will affect the weather of the world, the weather of the world inductively blends with the health of the biota. We are a "piece of the action".


Pick your favorite translation of the Tao te Jing... verse 21.

My 'cut-to-the-chase' translations:

1) Qualitative translation:

Things only come into existence according to the laws of Dao.
The Dao is elusive and intangible,
from within the Dao comes the image (xiang),
from within the image (xiang) comes the object (wu).
How do I know this is so? Because it is so.

2) Quantitative translation:

As we say in the west,


Examining these terms (xiang and wu) yields some fascinating insights. Xiang, the same term used in the Chinese composite for "energetic anatomy" (zangxiang, internal organ image) is also the term used to describe the symbols (bagua, eight divinatory symbols) of the "I Ching". The xiang of the I Ching are, in turn, made up broken and solid lines (xiao) representing various combinations of yin and yang. Xiao means likeness or resembling (like the taijitu, these xiao are other symbols for yin and yang).

Xiang itself refers not only to the symbolic representation of an object but includes the object itself as well. Interesting term.

Wu means matter, the real thing, substance.

We can easily define separately the words: concepts, shapes, fields, functions and structures, energy and matter. But finding hard boundaries between them in physics and Chinese medicine is at best useless if at all possible. The notion that matter even exists (as such) is rapidly becoming unpopular in modern physics. I recently heard that quarks, for instance, can now spontaneously turn themselves into electrons and vice versa. Clinically there is no useful distinction between an organ, its field or Bao (energetic envelope), its structure, its channels, its sphere of influence or for that matter, its symbols, its xiang and wu....

Ancient Daoist philosophy: "Yin creates yang, yang activates yin" -- modern Einsteinian physics: "Matter tells space how to curve, space tells matter how to move".


Anything that comes into existence has a beginning, a middle and an end. A sentence, a paragraph, a book. Morning, noon, night. Fertilization, gestation, birth. Birth, maturation, death. To go from a "here" to a "there" (xing). One does not have to spend a long time on the planet to observe this immutable law.

To expand this idea somewhat to better fit in the real world, a sine wave can quite accurately represent a qualitative schema of yang and yin coming into and going out of existence. Further, if we qualify every significant point of change in this wave: its beginning, its growth, its transformation, decline and end, the result is five points on each aspect of the wave (see below). We can also give each of these points ambiguous poetic emblems so they might be used to categorize and qualify similarly behaving phenomena, phenomena that show experientially that within their own categoric emblems: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water demonstrate resonant relationships. That is, all things which lend themselves to one of these five qualities also share a kinship of resonant relationship with all others in that category. (That's what all those Five-phase concordance charts are about -- differential diagnosis).


If we examine another graphic representation of the five-phases commonly found in old Daoist texts we find the transformational force of "earth" in the center providing temporal impetus to the other forces (see below). This corresponds well with reality and to Chinese medical terms. The earth's orbit round the sun is the temporal impetus that transforms wood-spring, fire-summer, metal-fall and water-winter. The biologic yinyang earth system: Spleen and Stomach, constitute the middle jiao and the body's impetus to transform matter (food) into energy, directs the sapors and provides the system with nutritive qi.


Wood is birth, potential action, as Manfred Porkert states. Fire is growth, actual action. Metal is decline (a movement toward consolidation) potential struction (structure). Water is death (consolidation) actual struction. Please keep reminding yourself that these are universal ambiguous emblems of qualitative standards of temporal transformations. No one said this will be easy, but I am not going to short change you.

We can superimpose any number of corresponding phenomena over these emblems. The four known forces of modern physics fit quite nicely:


Wood, in other words, is where things begin, birth. No matter how handy, original or convenient it might be to place fire at the top of the diagram, it distorts and dilutes the philosophical and scientific foundation of the concepts represented. Placed at the top of the graphic as it needs to be to reflect the underlying idea we find the familiar drawing:


To elaborate let's return to the first question of the proper representation of the taijitu. It is fundamental to Chinese medicine (and common sense) that the "heavenly" forces (yang) descend and the "Earthly" forces (yin) ascend to intermix dynamically as the biosphere. If we represent this given faithfully we arrive at the following:


From above the potential yang grows to its maximum. From below the potential yin grows to its maximum. Flowing clockwise with time. The potential yin in yang and yang in yin indicated by the small opposites complete the picture.
The birth of yang or wood, spring, beginning, issues out of "heaven" and grows in amplitude and into fire, summer. Accordingly yang, at its maximum, declines and settles into winter, the expansion of yin represented undisputedly by the emblem "water". When drawn correctly and superimposed the emblematic continuity and integrity of these two scientific symbols are preserved:


In Chinese medicine, there are actually only two seasons: winter and summer (yin and yang). Spring (wood) is the transition between winter and summer and fall (metal) the transition between summer and winter. Earth is the transformative force of all change, from one state to another, the fifth force, and the missing piece of the "Unified Field Theory" puzzle. This should also provide clues about physiological energy and its subtle intermixes, transformations and momentums resulting in life and its pathologies.

There are finally, the two commonly accepted representations of the bagua also called the eight trigrams or eight divinatory symbols of the I Ching:


The bagua represent directionality and space. As ambiguous emblems, they also have the same universal applicability inherent in the taijitu and the wuxing. Unfortunately, a complete discussion of the further implications of these symbols is beyond the scope of this short work.

At the creation, it may be somewhat easy to imagine that all matter and energy were created. Perhaps not so easy to imagine is that simultaneously all space was created too.

For the sake of this introduction we simply say this diagram provides the necessary completion of the symbols needed to represent qualitatively the concept of space or directionality, certain mathematical divisions of cyclical biologic events and the physiological substrates through which they are mediated. We will explore completely their medical significance in relation to the Eight Curious Vessels, the phases of the moon, and the energetics of the menstrual cycle in detail later.

With both positive and negative aspects shown (yin and yang), the wuxing and the bagua diagrammed, we can superimpose these upon one another to represent (qualitatively not quantitatively) space (compass points, position or directionality) and time (temporal events, days or seasons) and matter (yin) and energy (yang). Without violating Western or Eastern physics we can say matter-energy and space-time. That is -- phenomena and somewhere for it to occur:


The laws of the universe that exist today remain unchanged from the principles, laws, rules, and environmental influences that the Chinese contemplated 5,000 years ago. There is nothing particularly esoteric or difficult to grasp, although it is from a completely different contextual point of view. We have the same physical laws in modern America that existed in ancient China: momentum, inertia, gravity, electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear forces, other properties of physics, laws of fluid dynamics, and properties of cosmology that are relatively unchanging. The only barrier to understanding Chinese medicine the way the ancient Chinese did is apprehending the context in which they observed the universe.

The beauty of this is that the universe is still here to observe.

Chinese medicine can be studied, it can be learned, it can be mastered. I don't believe it can be taught. We must invent, create, discover, intuit Chinese medicine, as new for ourselves, in our own consciousness -- to understand it whole, in the original philosophical framework from which it developed.